Turkish journalist Ahmet Altan tops ‘10 Most Urgent’ list of press freedom cases

Imprisoned Turkish journalist Ahmet Altan has topped the December ranking of the One Free Press Coalition’s “10 Most Urgent” list of press freedom cases, the organization announced in a press release on Tuesday.

The monthly list, which is issued by a united group of preeminent editors and publishers, highlights journalists whose press freedoms are being suppressed or “whose cases are seeking justice.” The December list focuses on press freedom abuses relating to COVID-19. Altan, 70, is especially vulnerable to coronavirus in prison as he is surrounded by three neighboring cells displaying COVID-19 positive signs, according to his lawyer.

One of Turkey’s most famous novelists and journalists, Altan has been detained since September 2016 as part of Turkey’s sweeping purge after a failed coup that year. He was arrested with his brother Mehmet Altan and fellow journalist Nazlı Ilıcak on allegations of spreading “subliminal messages announcing a military coup” on television.

They were charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and interfering with the work of the parliament and the government.

The three journalists received life sentences in 2018, though Mehmet Altan was released after four months pending appeal.

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals overturned Ahmet Altan and Ilıcak’s life sentences in July 2019. The court acquitted Mehmet Altan due to a lack of evidence and ordered that Ahmet Altan and Ilıcak be retried on the lesser charges of aiding the Gülen movement, which is considered a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.

Altan was found guilty on November 4, 2019 and sentenced to 10 years, six months in prison. He was released pending appeal and was subjected to a travel ban.

Two days later the prosecutor appealed the court decision, claiming that Altan posed a flight risk. The İstanbul court granted the prosecutor’s request on November 12, and Altan was re-arrested at his home that evening and sent back to Silivri Prison.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. The crackdown also targeted political opponents of the government, Kurdish activists and human rights defenders, among others. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

The One Free Press Coalition comprises 38 prominent international members including The Associated Press, The Washington Post, Bloomberg News, Reuters, Deutsche Welle, Financial Times, Forbes, TIME, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Al Jazeera Media Network. The coalition was conceived during a meeting of the International Media Council at the World Economic Forum. Top editors from leading media organizations committed to use their collective muscle — by working together, they could shine a massive light on the plight of threatened journalists all over the world.

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